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Should You Employ Twitter as a Marketing Tool?

At this stage of the game, odds are good you're at least somewhat familiar with Twitter. More nebulous, perhaps, is how you can effectively use the popular microblogging service to generate sales and reach customers.

The fact is companies have taken to Twitter enthusiastically, and many organizations—like CNN, to name but one—have developed a large number of followers. The cable giant has more than 700,000 followers who are receiving up-to-the-minute information on events and happenings around the world. This strengthens the CNN brand and offers a one-to-one connection with its content.

Then you have Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, whose tweets have done a marvelous job of melding his personal observations with the company's overall mantra of customer service—thereby constantly reinforcing the Zappos message. He also makes it a point to reply to his followers'messages…customer communications in a large fishbowl.

The real question for businesses is, should you be employing Twitter as a marketing tool? The answer depends on several things, but here are seven good reasons for considering it:

1. It makes your company more human. Companies have had success via Twitter in humanizing corporate responses. Domino's took a little heat for being a day slow in responding to its recent snafu, but most marketers thought they did as good a job as could be done responding on Twitter.

2. It makes you focus on your core message. When you are forced to boil down your brand strategy to make it as simple as possible (remember, you only have 140 characters!), it makes you drop all the non-essential information.

3. It makes you think about your communication strategy. Do you have a long-term strategy for your customer communications? This often applies to Twitter when you begin to consider how often, and on what subjects, your tweets will be handled.

4. It makes you think about who communicates on behalf of your business. Who will be doing the tweeting? Multiple people? A single source? An agency? What does this mean for your company's brand?

Sometimes the best person to tweet on behalf of the company is the person in the trenches who sees the customers every day. Starbucks does a good job of walking the brand walk while doing the Twitter talk. And it's authentic, so it works.

5. It makes you consider negative comments. Are you ready for conversations that may not be favorable to your company and its image?

6. It makes you engage directly with influencers. Be ready to engage with Twitterers who have large numbers of followers, known as power users. This also takes time, but can be very rewarding.

7. It forces you to be authentic. People will see through obvious marketing ploys. It's fine to promote, but do not attempt in any way to manipulate the conversation…that will eventually backfire.

One final caveat: Having a one-to-one dialog with users and customers can be a huge asset to your business, but all those conversations need to be under the umbrella of being relevant. Used correctly, Twitter can be a great tool. But if your company isn't prepared to follow through and keep up with the conversation, it can quickly become a detriment.

Mark Kolier is president of the direct and digital marketing agency CGSM.